Utah’s attorney general says he posed as a bodyguard and translator during a secret mission coordinated with authorities in Colombia to rescue more than 55 child sex slaves from a gang on an island off the country’s Caribbean coast.
Sean Reyes, the state’s top law enforcement official, said on Thursday he played the role of Spanish-speaking interpreter and muscle for the sting set up by Operation Underground Railroad, a Utah-based nonprofit organization that works with police to fight child sex trafficking worldwide.
“It’s not a black-ops deal,” Reyes, a Republican, said of the operation that took place last October.
The sting had the support of both the U.S. and Colombian governments, Reyes said. Two U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigators were also present, an advisor to the attorney general said.
Reyes accompanied a small group of men who posed as wealthy investors in a plan by Colombian criminals to build a child sex hotel on the Rosario Islands, an archipelago southwest of the resort city of Cartagena.
In video footage released by his office, members of the Colombian security forces are seen landing by boat and ordering everyone, including Reyes, onto the ground at gunpoint.
“Everything happened so quick. Bang, bang, the take-down,” Reyes told Reuters in an interview.
“The hardest part was standing there listening to these traffickers, having them slapping us on the back and jubilant and thinking that we were all friends and partners,” he said.
“I’m crawling out of my skin, as the father of a 12-year-old, when they bring out an 11-year-old and offer her up as the grand prize because she’s a virgin and she’s not been touched yet.”
The Utah group said children as young as 10 were among those rescued, and that some 40 others were picked up elsewhere by local law enforcement.
“We’re bringing them back into custody so they can stand trial and suffer the consequences of their depraved practices,” Reyes said.
Colombian police officials did not immediately have details on the operation.
Reyes said he took part because “it’s critical that people throughout the world understand what an epidemic human trafficking really is.”
The attorney general, a father of six, said the arrest almost a year ago in Utah of a Guatemalan man, Victor Rax, showed the problem of child sex slavery striking close to home.
Rax was charged with smuggling in Central American boys, sexually abusing them, and making them carry drugs into schools in what Reyes called “the sleepy little communities of Utah.”
Rax committed suicide in jail last April.
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis in Denver; Additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Will Dunham)
Watch a report on Reyes’ participation in the sting, as aired on KSTU-TV, below.
WATCH: CNN justice reporter discusses next steps in Roger Stone case
On Monday's edition of CNN's "The Situation Room," justice correspondent Evan Perez walked through the next steps in the sentencing of President Donald Trump's former campaign strategist Roger Stone, following a week in which the president and the Justice Department appeared to intervene in the case.
"We know that the president's longtime confidant and friend Roger Stone, supposedly he's going to be sentenced later this week," said anchor Wolf Blitzer. "What is the latest we are hearing?"
"The latest is that the judge overseeing this, Amy Berman Jackson, has scheduled a conference call tomorrow to discuss some of the things that went on, and so many things that happened last week, Wolf, including four prosecutors who quit the case," said Perez. "She has yet to even acknowledge the fact that those four prosecutors are no longer there. So, for now, it appears he is going to be sentenced this week, and he has requested twice for the judge to declare a new trial, and we don't expect it is going to happen, and certainly, tomorrow, we will get to the first indication of her reaction to what went on at the Justice Department last week."
WATCH: Nicolle Wallace breaks down ‘the case against William Barr’
MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace on Monday broke down "the case against William Barr" as controversy continues to envelop the Department of Justice.
"Republicans and Democrats who have served in the Justice Department for the past 12 presidents are today calling for William Barr's resignation as our country's attorney general," Wallace reported.
Wallace read from an open letter signed by 2,000 former federal prosecutors and DOJ officials.
Trump is ‘our chief criminal running a crime syndicate out of the West Wing’: Former federal prosecutor
Former federal prosecutor John Flannery is one of the over 1,100 former Justice Department lawyers and prosecutors who signed a letter demanding Attorney General Bill Barr resign after intervening to reduce the sentence of a close friend of President Donald Trump.
Flannery said that the backlash of Barr's intrusion is there are many who feel isolated or intimidated from speaking out against illegal or unethical things they witness.
"What they're doing is trying to erase the parallel case that was just the subject of the impeachment, because what [Roger] Stone is charged with was interfering in our election in 2016," explained Flannery. "And then obstructing the investigation by the Intelligence Committee into that interference, and causing them to lie and threaten and so forth. So, they'd like to erase that."